In John Sayles’ New Film, ‘Amigo,’ An Ambiguous Friendship

Waterboarding of Rafael Dacanay: Standard tool of colonization

A still from John Sayles' new film, 'Amigo.'

This article was originally published in The, an online magazine for Filipino Americans in New York, published by Cristina DC Pastor.

By Elton Lugay

John Sayles’s “Amigo” tackles a little known episode in history: the 1899-1902 Philippine-American War.

“I felt like there was a kind of vacuum, that a conversation was not being had about this moment in both Filipino and American history that needed to be restarted,” said Sayles at a recent forum held at the Philippine Consulate.

With “Amigo,” he said he meant to tell this story — not as a massive historical epic, but simply as a snapshot.

At the center of this cinematographically beautiful fiction set in 1900 is cabeza de barangay Rafael Dacanay (Joel Torre), whose family is torn apart by the war. He and his wife grudgingly cooperate with the American soldiers who occupy their village and their home, but his brother and son are insurgent guerrillas fighting U.S. forces from their mountain hideout.

When the American general (Chris Cooper) puts pressure on Rafael to surrender his brother by leading the troops to the rebels’ hideout, the movie picks up in pace and emotional conflict. How Rafael struggles to survive the American occupation and still respect the principles advocated by his brother is at the core of “Amigo’s” message.

“Those are hard decisions,” said Sayles, “but it seems to be the central conflict for Filipino people at that time.”

“It’s very hard to tell the good amigos from the bad amigos,” he continued, expounding on the meaning of friendship in a time of war. “They seem like really friendly and nice people, but then they’re the ones who shoot us. And we can’t tell them apart. It’s hard to tell a guy whom we had a nice conversation with in sign language in the morning, is the same guy who shot us when the lights are gone at night.”

Producer Maggie Renzi said the film is not worried about offending anybody.

Read the rest of the story at

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